IVA 100 years: The man behind IVA

Anyone who has visited and walked through the corridors at IVA may have already seen him. He looks down from a dark, impressive oil painting – the man who took the initiative to form IVA, Axel F. Enström. But who was he? What motivated him? And what was his life like?

“In some ways he was fairly typical for his day. It was during the decades preceding the turn of the last century that big breakthroughs were happening in engineering sciences,” says Gunnar Wetterberg, analyst and IVA member.

Wetterberg, a prolific history author, is currently working on a commemorative booklet about Axel F. Enström and is therefore well-qualified to describe his life in more detail.

“The biggest development at that time was the electrification that was happening all around the country. It was a factor in the creation of big corporations like Asea, and Enström was an electrical engineer. Also, speaking in today’s terms, I would say that he was very good at networking,” says Wetterberg.

Through this knowledge and his contacts he managed to persuade many important and influential researchers and industrialists to join forces and start IVA, and to purchase the building on Grev Turegatan, the Academy’s home to this day.

This was shortly after the first, and up to then the only, world war. All around Europe there were numerous initiatives under way to find solutions to various technical and diplomatic problems. In many ways, IVA was founded in the wake of this development.

“The really critical problem during WWI was that the supply of fuels such as coal and paraffin stopped flowing. The fuel issue was also behind the Riksdag bill that led to the birth of IVA. Enström was himself active in the wood gas issue,” says Wetterberg.

Before long the Academy’s activities forged ahead at full speed. No less than 30 or so boards, committees and commissions were formed under the auspices of the Academy up to the time of Enström’s death in 1948. Many of them were around for a long time and would make significant contributions to the development of the society of the day.

But who was Axel F. Enström outside the world of engineering sciences?

As the son of an instrument maker, Fredrik Enström, Axel F. Enström had a modest background, but he soon proved to have a very good memory, according to biographer Torsten Althim. After being a successful student at school and after his

teachers who were impressed by him paid his fees, he was accepted into the Royal Institute of Technology in 1891.

In summer of 1892 Axel, at the age of 17, started tutoring the son of wholesaler N.O. Ydén on the island of Lidingö. The mistress of the house, Anna Ydén, became Axel’s wife 16 years later after she and her husband became divorced. Anna was 18 years older than Axel, but this was of little consequence in the context: “The marriage was exceptionally harmonious and happy,” Althin points out.

“But it was an odd match at the time; quite an unusual love story,” says Wetterberg.

The couple’s home on Fiskargatan 9 in Mosebacke, Stockholm, became a hub for gatherings of the intelligentsia of the day, including prominent musicians who attended soirées there. A lover of art, Enström also invited artists into his home, including the great Isaac Grünewald, son-in-law of Axel’s wife Anna’s sister. Another common occurrence at his home, according to Althin, was Axel playing practical jokes on his visitors, involving, for example, exploding cigarettes and toy rats.